You know how they say 'you can't go back'? Well it turns out it should be 'you can't go away.'
I left Hong Kong after 30 years mainly to get away from high-rises and the increasing incident of metal fences, railings and walls. I'm not knocking Hong Kong, an extraordinarily successful city until now, I'm just saying that feeling like an ant in a canyon of dark, forbidding glass and metal surfaces while being corralled down a pavement made ever narrower by metal railings "for your own safety" while choking on fumes just wasn't for me anymore.
Water without high-rises Mallorca
So when I moved to Mallorca where I could cross the street anywhere I liked, houses were two or three floors and the air was fresh, I breathed a literal sigh of relief. Hong Kong was great and China was the best thing that ever happened to me, but it was time to move on. I moved to the outskirts of Palma de Mallorca, with the water in front of me and with a huge park/forest behind me - great feng shui!
The neighbourhood was peaceful and my traditional terraced house old and beautiful.
So what if on one side it shared a wall with a house that had been empty for 40 years, and on the other a house that had a 八卦 (bat gwa, nosey hag) on the second floor who liked to watch loud tv until two in the morning. Then late last year the stick-in-the-mud 1972 mindset socialist government must have had some kind of mental breakdown, because they suddenly allowed people to do renovation on their own houses.
All at once an explosion of work started in the neighbourhood, including on both sides of my house. I felt myself catapulted back to Hong Kong, where incessant pile driving, drilling, hammering and double drilling is everyone's life all the time, every day.
Hong Kong island seen from Kowloon
Because in Hong Kong, if someone moves out of or sells a flat, that flat must be completely, and I mean completely renovated before the next tenant moves in. Gutted. Taken apart. Not for them a fresh coat of paint, a carpet and some new curtains - everything must be powderised, annihilated, and crushed.
Suddenly I found myself between two such renovations, where the house on the left was torn down altogether, and the one on the right gutted, powderised, etc. with a new roof, new walls; lots and lots of new walls, and new everything.
All well and good - my rent went down and noise doesn't bother me although it has rather been like living inside a pneumatic drill while having all your teeth pulled out without an anaesthetic. But then the building of the new house on the left started. And not only wouldn't it be the same size and height as mine anymore, but its edge would reach all the way to the middle of my garden, and it would be one floor higher than mine. OK - more protection against the elements for me?
When I moved to Mallorca, the one thing I had been a little worried about, apart from missing Hong Kong too much, was the EU. Rules and regulations, niggling measuring of millimetres and tearing down of houses with the wrong door frame colour, that kind of thing - not like free-wheeling China and Hong Kong.
But I needn't have worried. When the brickworks reached my balcony, the workers didn't put up any protection, but let wet cement and little pebbles rain down on my balcony and on my garden.
"Please put up some protection!" I said.
They just laughed.
"Please stop spurting wet cement on my wall and on my clothes drying on the rack!" I said, but in Spanish, so it probably came out as "No. Bad. Net. Help. No cement. My clothes. My wall. No. I don't like."
"It's not from us, " said the foreman, who was standing there with a trowel in one hand and a brick in the other, 30 cm away from me.
Oh glory! It was exactly what a Chinese bricklayer would have said. I'm HOME! Doubly.
Next episode: More ways Mallorcan housebuilders are eerily similar to those of Hong Kong.